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Failed Bud Light marketing VP to 'resign' after Super Bowl

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The joke about the three biggest lies has many variations, but certainly "I gave at the office," "Your check is in the mail" and "I'm resigning to spend more time with my family" are top contenders.

Political appointees who've been given a kinder, gentler version of the Luger pistol with one bullet in the chamber have used that last lie for decades. And now, it looks like Bud Light marketing VP Paul Chibe is too.

After three years on the job, Chibe announced he's leaving right after the Super Bowl, of which his employer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is exclusive beer sponsor.

Did he jump or was he pushed?

Chibe told an interviewer that it was the terrible rigors of business travel that motivated his decision to quit and spend more time with his wife and two children.

An internal company memo said that "Paul will continue for the next few weeks to assure a smooth transition...on important marketing initiatives, such as the Super Bowl" and claimed that leaving was Chibe's own decision. But industry scuttlebutt says otherwise.

The Super Bowl 2014 advertising effort, Adveertising Age reported January 9, "was seen by many in the industry as his last chance to return Bud Light to the ad powerhouse it had been for much of its history." Chibe "has been under pressure to boost Bud Light's preformance [sic], according to industry executives," their report added.

If so, sales results show it's a pressure he failed to succumb to. While Bud Light remains the best-selling beer in the US, its sales have dwindled throughout Chibe's tenure. For the 52 weeks ending November 3, according to IRI, non-bar and -restaurant sales were down another 0.68 percent – down more than the preceding year. As we noted here,

Bud Light shipment volumes fell by 0.5% -- the fourth straight year of declines -- while the brand's market share has dropped from 19% in 2010 to 18.6% as of the end of last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights...For the 52 weeks ending May 19, Bud Light case volume sales were down by 0.56%, compared with category-wide growth of 0.64% according to IRI, whose figures to not include bar and restaurant sales.

Music instead of marketing

Chibe's main marketing accomplishments, if that that's what you want to call them, were:

  • Firing BBDO, the advertising agency that had produced creative and effective advertising for the brand over three decades.
  • In a misguided attempt to "to infuse more music-themed marketing into A-B InBev's brands in an appeal to millennials," replacing actual advertising strategies with music concert tie-ins, singer endorsements and hiring of singers such as Justin Timberlake and Jay Z as "creative directors."
  • Partnering with a former music executive whose advertising agency, Translation, functioned more as a talent agency to find work for musical performers.
  • Introducing line extensions, such as higher-alcohol Platinum and fruity Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita, that failed to gain traction in the marketplace. For example, after an apparently successful 2013 launch, Bud Light Platinum's sales dropped 36 percent during four weeks in April of that year.

The return of marketing

But in June of last year, things began to change. Budweiser rehired BBDO, the agency Chibe had fired, to create their 2014 advertising, starting with next month's Super Bowl.

They also added a Canadian import to their lineup – not another beer, but an executive who'd apparently been practicing marketing instead of music north of the border.

Chibe's successor will be Jorn Socquet, who, as VP of marketing in Canada, had been Chibe's counterpart since 2010. His successes with the core brand stand as a marked contrast to Chibe's failures. Under Socquet's stewardship, Budweiser became the number-one beer brand in Canada and Bud Light grew to become number three. Also unlike Chibe, who spent 11 years at Wm. Wrigley Jr. before joining A-B InBev, Socquet is no stranger to the beer business, having been global director of Stella Artois, Beck's and Hoegaarden. So it's conceivable that his marketing vocabulary will consist of more than just "music, music, music."

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